What is cgi-lib.pl and what does it do?

This document was written by CS 290W TA David Corcoran and was last modified

What is cgi-lib.pl?

Cgi-lib is a CGI parsing library written by Steven Brenner. You could do everything in cgi-lib.pl in your own Perl cgi script. But, using cgi-lib.pl is both very convenient and also allows us to jump into CGI programming more quickly. When you call the subroutine ReadParse in cgi-lib.pl, it can do several things for you.

Getting Information to your cgi script

CGI depends on the Web browser's ability to send information to the Web server. Remember the METHOD attribute in your <FORM> tag? METHOD specifies the way that information is passed from the Web browser to the cgi program. There are two common ways, GET and POST. GET is the easiest. Basically it appends a character string to the end of the URL that it is calling. For example:
The Web server dumps all the information after the Question Mark (?) into an environmental variable called QUERY_STRING.

The Query String

If METHOD=GET has been used, cgi-lib.pl can parse the environmental variable QUERY_STRING. The QUERY_STRING is a collection of key and value pairs where the key is the NAME that you put in your textfield, text area, etc. Consider the following example:
FIRSTNAME is the NAME or Key in that textfield. Whatever is placed in that textfield will be the Value that is passed in the QUERY_STRING when the submit button is pressed. If the name "Timothy" was placed in the first textfield, "James" put in the second and the submit button was pressed, your QUERY_STRING would look like the following:


With METHOD=POST, the data is sent in an input stream. Basically it is like sending it via standard input <STDIN>. The benefit of POST is that none of the information shows up in the URL as you see above. Here is how how to retrieve information using POST:
# Retrieving information using POST


$iSizeOfInfo = $ENV{'CONTENT_LENGTH'};

read(STDIN, $sTheString, $iSizeOfInfo);
Here we are using the read() command to get METHOD=POST data from STDIN.

Parsing Input Data

You can parse input data using the techniques described below. You can easily write a simple GET method CGI parser with the following Perl code:
# Retrieving Information using GET


$sQuery_string = $ENV{'QUERY_STRING'};

@asKeyPairs = split(/&/, $sQuery_string);
You can do something similar with POSTed data:
# Retrieving Information using POST


$iSizeOfInfo = $ENV{'CONTENT_LENGTH'};

read(STDIN, $sTheString, $iSizeOfInfo);

@asKeyPairs = split(/&/, $sTheString);
In either case this will give you the array @asKeyPairs which will contain two key/value pairs: $asKeyPairs[0] which is FIRSTNAME=Timothy and $asKeyPairs[1] which is LASTNAME=James. By using a loop you can then split up each of those values using the equals sign as the delimiter. To do this easily, though, Perl offers another data type called an associative array.

Associative Arrays

Associative Arrays allow you to bind a key and a value together. Instead of having a standard array value noted by a number $aiAge[2] you can have it noted by a scalar $aiAge{"JAMES"} Consider the following code and its example to show this:
$asPeople{"FIRSTNAME"} = "Timothy";
$asPeople{"LASTNAME"} = "James";
$asPeople{"MIDDLE"} = "R.";
$asPeople{"PHONE"} = "497-8394";

KEY            VALUE
FIRSTNAME      Timothy
LASTNAME       James
MIDDLE         R.
PHONE          497-8394
Associative arrays allow you to store two values -- a key and its associated value. If you asked what FIRSTNAME was, it would return Timothy. LASTNAME would return James. Getting values out of associative arrays is just as easy:

$sFirstname = $asPeople{"FIRSTNAME"};

# Notice the following.

$sFirstname = $in{"FIRSTNAME"};

Both should be quite straight forward. Notice the second though. Does it look familiar? It should, because cgi-lib.pl stores its Key/Values from the QUERY_STRING into an associative array called $in. When you use the statement $sName = $in{"FIRST"}; you are merely querying an associative array.

There are a few other things that cgi-lib.pl does also. For example, special characters; cgi-lib.pl recognizes escaped characters such as the ampersand and deals with them appropriately. Also, if FIRSTNAME was actually two words such as Dr. Timothy, QUERY_STRING represents these spaces as + (plus) signs. Cgi-lib.pl replaces the + signs with blanks.

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